The development of empathy and prosocial behavior begins in infancy and is likely supported by emotion processing skills. The current study explored whether early emerging deficits in emotion processing are associated with disruptions in the development of empathy and prosociality. We investigated this question in a large, diverse sample of 147, 11- to 20-month-old infants (42% female; 61% Black; 67% low socioeconomic status). Infants completed two observational tasks assessing prosocial helping and one task assessing empathy and prosocial comforting behavior. Infants also completed an eye-tracking task assessing engagement and disengagement with negative emotional faces. Infants who attended less to angry, sad, and fearful faces (i.e., by being slower to look at and/or quicker to look away from negative compared to neutral faces) engaged in fewer helping behaviors, and effect sizes were larger when examining infants' attention toward the eye regions of faces. Additionally, infants who were quicker to look away from the eye regions of angry faces, but not the whole face, displayed less empathy and comforting behaviors. Results suggest that as early as 12 months of age, infants' decreased attention toward negative emotional faces, particularly the eye regions, is associated with less empathy and prosociality during a developmental period in which these abilities are rapidly maturing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-136
Number of pages24
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024


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